The war in Ukraine tests the limits of those who are victimized by Russian attacks, whether they are military personnel or civilians experiencing shelling in heavily populated cities and rural areas. While Western allies justifiably support Ukraine’s military efforts, it remains equally important to supply mental health support to those in need. In fact, if we expect Ukraine to manage recovery, not just infrastructurally but also socially, Ukrainians must manage the traumatic experiences they have had during this conflict.
Research has shown that armed conflict exacerbates the prevalence of mental health problems for both soldiers and civilians. Experts have also concluded:
There is no doubt that the populations in war and conflict situations should receive mental health care as part of the total relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction processes. As happened in the first half of the 20th century, when war gave a big push to the developing concepts of mental health, the study of the psychological consequences of the wars of the current century could add new understandings and solutions to mental health problems of general populations.
10 million people in Ukraine are currently at risk of mental disorders such as acute stress, anxiety, depression, substance use, and post-traumatic stress disorder. With 22 percent of the population living in areas actively affected by the conflict, there are enormous challenges for the local health system, which is suffering from the direct and indirect impacts of the war. The Ukrainian government is stepping up in its efforts to support mental health initiatives, but it is obviously faced with considerable hurdles.
During armed conflict, and especially in regions where seeking mental health support can often be frowned upon, it is crucial to break the stigma, provide coping strategies, and strengthen resilience. This is true for adults but applies even more to children and youth. Trauma-informed programs that can be rolled out cost-effectively include breathing techniques and meditation, as well as self-expression through writing or drawing.
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